Keep refreshing your browser for updates...
I'm back from Las Vegas. That city astounded me on so many levels. Even if you're Amish, you should travel there and see everything. Here are the top five things I did: 1) Fire a bunch of machine guns, including an AK-47 and MP5. It cost a ton of money, but it was so exhilarating! (See the picture below of me with a 12-gauge shotgun) 2) Rode the "Big Shot" ride at the Stratosphere. You know the Power Tower at Cedar Point? It's that, except the ride BEGINS at 109 floors in the air. There are no adjectives to describe that ascent. 3) Played poker for seven hours on the night before we left. I went straight from the casino to the airport. Thanks to quad-jacks, I was a little richer. 4) Ate at the Paris hotel's buffet. With all of the crab legs I ate, I should have grown claws. 5) Sipped martinis at the Venetian hotel. That place is unbelievably posh. It's like Venice, Italy -- only better.
Best Buy had my computer for four weeks, which meant I had to borrow my dad's computer for blogging and I had to handwrite my exams. That was torture. I finally have it back. I feel complete.
OK. Enough about me. Let's talk about Illinois-Chicago. The Flames are 3-6, but they are coming off a win against Oregon State and Northern Illinois (by 20 points). Robo Kreps, a 6-foot guard, leads the team with 15.3 points per game. He shoots a ton of 3s, but only makes 31 percent of them. Jeremy Buttell is the leading rebounder with 6.5 per game.
Akron is a favorite to win of between 12.5 and 13 points. Oh! I almost forgot. I bet on the Cavs game at the Bellagio. That should definitely crack the top five Vegas moments. Nothing like complimentary Jack on the rocks while you're sitting in a plush chair watching your money float away because LeBron and Co. can't cover the spread.
Akron's starters: Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Brett McKnight, Jimmy Conyers and Zeke Marshall.
Big Zeke will give up 52 pounds to UIC's K.C. Robbins tonight. Robbins doesn't start, but he plays 16.2 minutes per game. I would expect to see him play much more tonight, with the objective being to keep Marshall out of the paint.
I wonder if Robo (as in Robo Kreps) is short for something, such as Robot. Ahh. It's short for Robert. I guess that was the obvious answer.
Nik Cvetinovic did not start tonight. He tallied only seven points and 10 rebounds in the last three games combined. Such is life on Keith Dambrot's deep roster.
UIC is running a 2-3 zone that is confounding Akron's offense. Chris McKnight caught a pass at the elbow and tossed up a clunker off the back right side of the rim.
UIC coach Jimmy Collins was a terrific player (according to Tom Gaffney, who is old -- err, seasoned -- enough to remember him). Collins played on New Mexico State's 1970 Final Four team. The Chicago Bulls drafted him in the first round a few months later.
Akron is shooting 58 percent on free throws. Wow.
Marshall cut to the basket and Brett McKnight found him on a nice pass. Marshall went up for the two-handed dunk. He was fouled and missed the dunk, then he missed both foul shots.
The Zips have seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game.
I haven't mentioned UIC's second-leading scorer Zavion Neely, a 6-1 sophomore, but he sure is shifty. He just broke some ankles (figuratively) en route to a finger roll.
The crowd is decent for a nonconference game close to Christmas (when the students are away from campus). It got pretty loud when Akron went on an 8-2 run to retake the lead at 21-20.
Chris McKnight's rebounds and points are down about 25 percent this season. I trust he'll pick it up. But it's sad in the mean time.
The Zips are 1-for-5 at the line. What's more pathetic: tonight's shooting or the fact that the Zips can improve their season average with tonight's performance by just making their next five?
Akron is shooting poorly from the field, too: 11-for-27 with 3:01 to play in the first half. Conyers, however, is stuffing the stat sheet again. He has six points and eight rebounds. UIC, as a team, only has 10 rebounds.
Marshall went down in a scrum for a loose ball. He stayed down just long enough to make everyone uncomfortable. Joe Dunn said he twisted a knee, but I didn't see it.
Conyers showed off his athleticism by attempting to posterize UIC's 6-9 center Louis Green from his flat feet. The dunk missed but Green fouled him. On the next possession, Conyers grabbed his tenth rebound of the half. He made a couple free throws (gasp!) to give him nine points before halftime.
Halftime stats of note: Score -- Akron 36, UIC 27. Neely leads both teams with 10 points. Humpty Hitchens has three assists. Akron is shooting 42 percent; UIC is 43.5 percent. UIC has made all four of its free throws; Akron is 6-for-11. The Zips have nine turnovers; UIC has 10. The most important stat is the rebounding discrepancy: Akron has 21, and UIC has 11.
I miscalculated the impact the 6-11 Robbins would have. He played four minutes without a point or a rebound.
Marshall scored his first point on a free throw that spun around the rim at least twice. You know, one of those toilet flush finishes. He made the second, as well.
It took 22 minutes, but Mike Bardo finally entered the game.
After a few minutes of poor play, Dambrot's offense really figured out how to get inside of UIC's zone and punish it.
UIC coach Collins nearly earned a technical foul. He called timeout and pursued the referee inside the 3-point line. I believe he was complaining that Bardo slapped the rim, which may have caused a UIC layup to carom off for a miss. If that's the case, Collins would have been pleading for a goaltending violation.
While Chris McKnight is floundering, his brother has looked a lot more active and assertive. Brett McKnight is crashing the boards, working hard to get open and even playing a little more defense than the norm.
Around the MAC... Five of six MAC East teams are above .500. The sole slacker is Miami (3-8), who, as usual, is playing a gauntlet nonconference schedule. Ohio (7-3) has this week's MAC East Player of the Week in freshman guard D.J. Cooper. The Bobcats and Zips are tied atop the division. Eastern Michigan, on the back of big man Brandon Bowdry (19.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg), leads the West at 6-4. Northern Illinois is the surprise at 1-7. This is a young team that was supposed to get a lot better this year.
Hitchens went coast to coast for a layup. It would be hard to find a faster player in the MAC than him. He followed it up with a nice dish off a drive to Chris McKnight, who laid it in.
Back to Chris McKnight... I can tell he's struggling with confidence when he has the ball. He was very tentative on his release point on what is otherwise a bunny that 95 percent of fans in the building wouldn't sweat.
Fans are getting restless after a few poor Zips possessions. Akron still leads by eight. That should tell you that fans no longer are confident in the Zips' ability to close off these games.
UIC guard Dipanjot Singh is wearing some sort of head covering that goes over his hair. He also is the only Flame without his last name on the jersey. I'm wondering if these things have religious significance. That's my guess. He's a smart guy; that's for sure. He was National Honor Society student in high school and now majors in kinesiology and pre-med.
Conyers has 16 rebounds. I'm not sure about this, but that has to be the highest total since Jeremiah Wood graced Rhodes Arena.
UIC's Corey Gray hit a 3. Akron's lead is only five with 6:30 to play. Marshall responded with a sweet hook. That shot will be there every possession. It will be particularly fruitful if Conyers and one of the McKnights crash the boards while the guards wait for kick-out 3-point attempts.
UIC is pressing Akron in the backcourt after made shots. Gray is a scrappy defender. He forced Hitchens into a five-second call.
Things I like when Akron has the ball: 1) Finding Marshall in the post. 2) Cvetinovic driving. He has great touch and moves that are too good for people of his size to keep up with.
Chris McKnight was called for a bogus foul. A UIC player dragged him down by the shorts, but the referee out of position blew the whistle on Akron.
Roberts will shoot one-and-one with 2:30 to play and a nine-point lead. These shots could provide some breathing room. I wouldn't say it's over yet. Roberts made both.
Chris McKnight had one of those baskets that can swing your season. He made a layup while getting pounded by a UIC player. He completed the three-point play to give Akron an insurmountable 14-point lead with two minutes to play.
Brett McKnight swatted a UIC shot on the next possession. He rebounded UIC's next shot, then he provided an easy assist to his brother for another layup. The last couple minutes belong to the McKnights.
The only question now is: Will Akron cover the 13-point spread?
After leading the Flames with 10 first-half points, Neely barely played in the second half.
Kreps is at the line with the point-spread in his hands. He made both free throws to take Akron's lead down to 12.
Final stats of note: Conyers grabbed 19 rebounds -- the most by a Zip since 1985 and it's a Rhodes Arena record. Brett McKnight and Neely shared the game high of 16 points. UIC's Spencer Stewart dished seven assists. Akron shot 47.4 percent, compared to UIC's 41.8 percent. Akron made only 5-of-18 3-point attempts (27.8 percent); UIC was 8-for-21 (38.1 percent). Akron had 16 turnovers, compared to UIC's 14. The Zips maintained their rebounding dominance: 42 to 25.
Final score -- Akron 77, UIC 65
QUOTES from Keith Dambrot:
"We did some good things and we did some bad things. What impressed me is that we hit a rough stretch. We rallied ourselves. We haven't had that ability yet this season."
"This is the type of team that has given us trouble in the past."
"Obviously Jimmy did a great job. He also defended well. As a team, we guarded Kreps well. He becomes what Nate Linhart was. He's probably one of the best post defenders in the league."
"Guys like Jimmy Conyers who have had to fight for what they get are better than guys who are given minutes. He has become a stalwart. It's hard to take him out of the game. It's hard not to play him at this point. If he makes a mistake or two, he has a long leash now, when before he had a short leash. A lot of times in life, it's about opportunity. He may be our best player."
"I can't ever remember it. We had Grant Long. I don't remember him ever having 19 (rebounds). He's not the strongest guy we have in the weight room because of some technique issues, but if you look at him, he's an absolute beast."
"I think this team has become one of our better rebounding teams."
"We struggled against the zone for a minute, then we tore it apart. It's hard to schedule, but if you can go easy to hard, it helps you. But it's impossible to do that."
"We're really good when teams run a lot of continuity or motion. Rule-wise, we understand where we have to be. The only thing I was disappointed with is, we were not good at the rim. Zeke was not good at the rim, for whatever reason it was. He was getting bullied around a little."
"We need to keep finding ways to get Bardo minutes. And to get Ronnie about eight minutes."
"Those three perimeter guys -- they're all good MAC-level players. I think two of them are better than good. All three of those guys can start on almost any team in the league. We took turns on Kreps. Jimmy was really good on him in a sense that he's a little bigger."
"Those guys are going to be pissed off." -- Referring to Jeremiah Wood and Romeo Travis, who had their high-water rebounding marks surpassed tonight.
Quotes from Jimmy Conyers:
"I found out I had a lot at halftime. Right place at the right time. I was just lucky I guess."
"This is the last go-around, so I have to make the best of it."
"These last couple games, we weren't challenged enough. UIC was good for us."